Look Past the "Self-Presentation"

One of the many consequences of the pandemic is that people are more anxious. The sudden appearance of Covid-19 and its impact on our lifestyles -, health and life itself, has created anxiety for almost everyone. For some it’s quite severe; for others not.  However, it’s important that we recognize its impact and help people address it.

Adrian Gostick, Chester Elton and Anthony Gostick, recently released a book, Anxiety at Work.  Even before the pandemic started, the authors were hearing that anxiety at work was increasing. Harvard Medical School research reports that “on-the-job-anxiety” imperils workers; careers and company  productivity.. Anxiety leads to increased employee, errors, growing burnout, workplace rage, more sick days, and poor employee health. Workplace anxiety is estimated to cost some $40 Billion annually in lost productivity, errors and health-care costs; stress is estimated t cost more than $300 Billion.

A 2018 survey found that 34% of workers of all ages felt anxious at least once in the previous month; 18% had a diagnosed anxiety disorder.  Some of it is related to fitting into the workplace; another comfort is discomfort with doing the work. Yet very little about it was reported in their companies.


At Stanford University, they came up with a term to describe the masquerading of students at the high-pressure school. The “duck syndrome” describes students who appear as if they doing fine, but are manically pushing themselves, just like a duck calmly glides on a pond, while below the surface the ducks are paddling like mad.

During the pandemic, the stresses became more severe, as people, especially parents had to juggle health issues, living arrangements, computer resources, and significant others having all kinds of problems, while handling the work for their employers.  Since the common interface was Zoom, people could try to a present a calm self-presentation. Like the “ducks”, they make it seem that they were gliding along, when in fact they were under pressure and used extra hours in the day to meet the deadlines. How hard they paddled wasn’t obvious.

We’re now in the “fluid” stage of the pandemic – trying to figure out when, where and how we will work at home, in the office, etc. Adding to everyone’s anxiety is that like water in a bucket on a ship at sea being tossed by the waves, the water keeps shifting and just adding more stress to it for all.

We all need to look past our self-presentations of relative “calm” and attend to the indicators of additional stress and anxiety that might below the surface. We need to have open discussions with our staff of what their current situation is like and how they expect it to changes, while the waves of this pandemic keep slamming everyone.  Only in that way can we help people take control of their anxiety and make decisions as to what will work for them in the next stage and eventually the new normal.

Share with us what you’re doing to help your staff. We can all learn from experiences.

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